Calm; not panic

There was a time when looking like a shag on a rock would have the opposite effect of self effacement. It would have instilled discomforting anxiety and a draining of self confidence, lasting for days later.

The other day, two teams congregated around the door to the meeting room. Spilling out into the breakout area, groups of twos, threes, and fours stood chatting, waiting for the occupants to vacate.

I know the majority of my colleagues by name, a few I count as more than acquaintances, having worked with them for coming up to three years.

I invested my energy in striking up a conversation with a relative newcomer, they having previously sought me out for a non work related discussions. Within seconds they walked away abandoning me to my solitude.

Maybe I had not done enough to engage with them, to deepen our relationship. When working from home they often requested my help through Teams. I am always happy to assist everyone where I can.

There was a fraction of a second of realisation, I could not escape to the contents of my mobile phone, it was on my desk downstairs. In the present moment, I calmly gazed, taking in the twenty or so people; not a hint of a blush, sweat or wish to take flight.

Early schooling

Happiest around water

I romantically assume, the purpose of schooling in 1960’s and 1970’s UK was to provide a general introduction to topics. A catalyst to inspire fresh minds to develop skills and assist in identifying one’s career path.

Primary school was all about singing, maypole dancing, being statues, playing percussion instruments, needlework, beanbags, art, decimalisation, decorating walls with forest gauging paper collages, playing ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf?’, free milk, and carbolic soap.

Streaming in secondary school labelled the ‘brightest’ two groups as ‘A’s destined for G.C.E ‘O’ and ‘A’ level study* whilst the three groups of ‘B’s were setup for C.S.E.s**. The remaining ‘R’ group of remedial students were segregated from the rest. It was rumoured they were consigned to a single room, secreted away somewhere to avoid sullying the reputation of the school and tainting the achievers.

In the first halcyon year, I realised my passions in art, pottery, drama, music, the Dewey decimal system organised library, history, English, French, and German. Dislikes included, P.E. (physical education), R.E. (religious education), geography, and science. Also, boys only, woodwork, metalwork, and technical drawing.

Girls only, typing, sewing, and domestic science were more preferable to me, sadly out of reach.

When electing a program of certificated study from the second year onwards, English language, mathematics, sports (cringe) and one science subject were compulsory. I elected courses in history, French, German, music (violin then oboe), pottery, and English literature.

As biology turned my stomach, chemistry was smelly and required an in-depth knowledge of the periodic table, physics was the only option left.

Even though as a youth and now, I had a terribly disorganised and random mind, I found solace in algebra and measuring objects.

For decades, I held onto the dog eared, pale peach gloss coloured logarithmic and other tables booklet. The cover retained an archive of finger prints, biro marks, food stains and liquid spill marks.

Unfortunately, my final year of secondary studies and fifth year examinations took place 30 kms south in a high school local to our new council house assigned to our family as part of the ‘Birmingham overspill’.

Somehow, I scraped by with four ‘O’ levels in English language, mathematics, history, and ceramics plus C.S.Es physics, German, and music (oral). Sufficient enough to commence an ordinary national diploma in hospitality.

In hindsight, we would have benefitted from courses in cooking, cleaning, laundry, personal hygiene, budgeting, safety, tolerance, respect, and communication skills.

I didn’t give up on French, gaining a high distinction in language and culture at university level in Australia.

*General Certificate of Education at Ordinary and Advanced level provided access to tertiary level technical and polytechnic colleges, and universities.

**Certificate of Secondary Education gained access to tertiary level technical colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships.

Sunburnt goth

I live in a country with an overhead continent sized hole in the ozone layer and one of the highest incidents of skin cancer in the World. Moving to the Sunshine State of Queensland three years ago has increased the chance of skin damage.

As I inherited moles from my parents, it is recommended, I should get my skin checked annually. Thankfully at a recent going over, I was given the all clear.

An early DNA test revealed my paternal heritage hails from Northern Europe while my maternal Romani ancestors migrated from the northern Mediterranean region to the UK.

Up until around age 12, growing up in England, meant happily playing in the sun sans sunscreen. Turning red was an accepted step to a ‘healthy’ colour. It appears my Caucasian flesh pigmentation is influenced more from the northern rather than the southern realms.

During the heatwave of 1976, while caravanning in Barmouth, Wales, I learned a painful lesson. Running around topless resulted in the most excruciatingly painful sunburn imaginable. It was too sore to even have fabric next to my skin. I slept on my front, lathered in calamine lotion.

Once home, I enjoyed an unhealthy fascination with peeling great sheets of dead skin from my body.

Freckles across my upper back and shoulders are a constant reminder of that day.

With age, I have found liberally applied factor 50+ protection allows my porcelain hued complexion to gradually morph to a honey glow.

The bizarre thing is, from early on, I sought to seek out darkness rather than the light. Maybe it was rebellion against a Christian upbringing. I hungrily devoured texts laden with the macarbre, vampires, devils, witches, fortune telling, the Tarot, dreams, ghosts, and Victorian gothic romanticism. If I had been more worldly wise and less concerned with what I assumed people thought of me, I would have embraced the goth culture of the 1980s. This may even have led to finding ways to link with the eastern Germanic tribes of the same name.

A career path into hospitality reaffirmed the need to hide my identity and fit into the expected ‘norm’. Perhaps, pursuing art studies should have provided a safe space for discovering my inner self and self-expression.

In some ways my stifled authenticity has stunted my development. Labelling myself a neo pagan in my forties, I indulged my interest in the occult. I read as much as I could, learned to invoke natural energies to enhance spell work and tried to understand the hidden meaning of symbolism. The launch of this blog coincided with the conclusion of my mystical journeying.

It is now, in my late fifties, I feel comfortable and safe enough to explore my inner goth. A Brisbane Pride March and Fair Day, scheduled for yesterday has been postponed due the risk of COVID community transmission. I was gearing up to launch my goth in facial expression at these events. This would have come as a surprise to my companions.

The photograph above captures a shaky handed and hasty first attempt at the makeup. I didn’t wait long enough for the primer and foundation to dry and managed to poke myself in the eye with the mascara brush.

I haven’t worked out what to do with my beard. Maybe purple-black glitter; glam goth.

Acceptance

Lately, I’ve been mulling over the concept of acceptance in contributing to happiness.

For me, conscious and unconscious resistance can lead to spending more money than we have and overindulgence in the hip widening and liver damaging luxuries of life.

The resulting feelings of frustration, anger, shame, blame, guilt, self-loathing, and self-doubt are overwhelming.

Ruminating on the past while agonising over the consequences of my actions, results in a harsh reality. Appropriately described in the idiom, ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie on it.’ A mantra I frequently use to beat myself with.

Sometimes, being dissatisfied with my current lot, I can be impatient in getting to where I believe we are striving to be. Dangerous territory, being built on a vague assumption and an indeterminate plan.

Frenzied discombobulated highly tiring brain activity follows. This green tinted lens lessens my appreciation of what we have in our relationship, friends and family, home life, home location and surrounds, lifestyle, work balance, safety, and freedom.

I have found refusing to accept our situation significantly impacts my mental resilience. Compounding incidents hasten a downward spiralling mood. The only way out is for me to provide myself permission to embrace the present and take time to enjoy what is now, not what was, or may be.

Pedestal-ism

Another epiphany in the shower!

I recently realised, when I like someone, I subconsciously raise them up in my esteem. Filling in the gaps in my knowledge of them with vague beliefs and assumptions.

For example, in talking to a personable acquaintance the other day, they told me they were building their self confidence so that they could teach. I was introduced to them at a dinner about two years ago. At the time and since, I have enjoyed their bright personality and cheerful disposition; reading in self assurance.

Reflecting on my presumption of their strengths, I realised how little I knew of them. Their pedestal and place on it was almost entirely a figment of my imagination.

It should come as no surprise, I am sometimes disappointed by others. I am expecting them to fill the roles of fictitious characters on the journey of my life.

Similarly I read reciprocal admiration into relationships. My importance in the life of another is not as significant as the ideal; tearing my heart, ever so slightly.

Misguided vanity

As a teenager in the UK, I had a few part time jobs. The first was serving takeaway fish and chips in a timber framed shop with higgledy-piggledy floors, ceilings, windows and doors. It was located in a high street where the buildings appeared to have collided into each other.

The income paid for uniforms, chef’s knives, and books, required for study. Following the start of a two-year sandwich course*, I was informed I needed to get experience working in a more superior hospitality business. I was fortunate in securing the role of banqueting waiter at a half timbered C16th hotel.

The business was purchased by a local hotel group, leading to my first redundancy and redeployment. The new hall porter position was located at a grand C19th mansion, turned hotel and function centre. The group also ran the lido in the town. Each Summer staff had the opportunity of working in the lido kiosk.

As my heritage is more Northern European than Mediterranean, my pasty white limbs would sear to a deep vermilion when flaunted in the sun. In order to protect my fragile ego I opted to succumb to packaged promises of golden to bronzed litheness.

Quelle horreur and indignity I endured exposing the resulting patchy brown reality!

*a training course with alternate periods of formal instruction and practical experience.

Halloween thoughts

I was going to write that I’d been thinking for a while it feels like we’re in a holding pattern. Being in limbo, on the way to something, somewhere.

Today I realised, pondering on an unknown future takes me away from enjoying the present. Where we are now, so much to celebrate.

It’s not the first time this has happened. Previously, shortly after turning fifty, I was checking out retirement living.

Another thought occurred to me while showering: Is it foolish to accept a nagging want to not grow old, opening a world of risk?

Conscious over indulgence leading to an early death.

Avoiding enjoyment in the present, in case, prematurely, the reaper calls. Disappointment in the extreme to embrace life when death comes knocking!

Living one’s purpose

Five learnings from my journey of service to others

Beware the drama triangle
Take a moment to step back, assess the situation. Are characters from the drama triangle* about to draw me in? I aim to be objective and assist participants to find a way out.

I learned the hard way, taking on the part of Rescuer often led to situations that compromised one of my core values, integrity.

Self limiting practises suck
I have often found myself tied up in my own self limiting practises due to making assumptions, skewed perception, self doubt, and misguided self reliance. This led to missed opportunities for me to assist others to develop, poorer quality outcomes and my own burnout.

Fear of failure; bunny in the headlights
I cannot overstate the sheer horror and inner trauma of being faced with the threat of not achieving a goal, in my service to another.

The worst was realised by the refusal of a stakeholder to cooperate. This brought forth significant flight or fight responses.

Having clear measures of success, being prepared for resistance and exploring collaboration rather than drawing battle have helped me since.

Being ‘helpful’ or taking over
When I first started coaching, I observed myself wanting to jump in to help by taking over. An urge, almost too hard to resist.

What a relief it was to understand the benefits of others’ active participation in decision making, problem solving and learning processes. The person being coached is imbued with freedom during the journey and has ownership of the outcome.

Resilience
Resilience to deal with this time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. For an emotional soul such as I, it’s important for me to to not take things personally; stick my head in the sand, or become a victim.

Acceptance of the way things are grants permission to move forward.

*Dr Stephen Karpman developed a dynamic model of social interaction and conflict, calling it the ‘drama triangle’. Three participants take the roles of ‘rescuer’, ‘persecutor’, ‘victim’. I recommend reading How to opt out of the drama triangle.

Finding one’s purpose

In my early fifties, I spent years in dismal dismay, scratching around in search of my purpose. Prior to this, I seemed to be caught in the blissful raptural ignorance of youth.

Being fortunate to have a supportive line manager, I took full advantage of personality testing and coaching. Even though the purpose remained elusive, calls to the Universe for insight and inspiration were released.

Significant changes to career, house, and home state proved to be the catalyst of self realisation. The act of job seeking necessitated repetitive review, refinement, and honing of one’s resumé, cover letter, and application. This led to a need to identify the goals of the 30 plus roles, performed to date. The list was prioritised and filtered according to length of tenure. This drew together and consolidated many threads, distilling them into a single purpose.

The result, service to others. I do this by engaging problem solving, creativity, authenticity, and time management skills.

Doubting Thomas

How smug I once was, and will be again, I’m sure. Liking to think I was lithe at forty and poo-pooing physiotherapy. Even when I injured my shoulder, lifting weights for vanity’s sake. Other injuries and increasingly sedentary work roles followed.

Fighting the flab in my fifties almost seems too hard a battle to even try to win. I know investment in my health is required to smooth the passage through my twilight years. I’m still working out when they start.

Ten months into a role in supporting injured workers through their rehabilitation has opened my eyes, personally and professionally, to the miracle work of the physiotherapist.

Most recently, I applaud the weekly direction of an exercise physiologist. Damian is teaching me how to get up off the floor without using my hands. Also, how to exercise again starting with Bird Dog*. I believed my decrepitude, dwindling willpower, and self motivation had reached the point of no return, apparently not. I always perform best when I’m doing something for someone other than myself.

Avoiding the scales during the covid crisis, exercising less, and overindulging has resulted in a weight gain of five kilos. My weigh-in, a personal best of 99 kg, 218 lb or 15st 8lb 5oz, what a pity I’m not 2 metres tall. Humpty Dumpty is my pin up goal, now my waist measures 114cm, almost 45”. A 4XL teeshirt is so comfy these day, especially on a beach with Stan.

Time, they say, will tell how and where this doubting Thomas will end up.

*The Bird Dog is a go-to move for stabilizing and strengthening your shoulders, core, and low back. Well-known for simultaneously engaging the shoulders, abdominals, lower back, gluteal, and thigh muscles.